How to manage staff who breastfeed at work

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

April 01 2019

A recent survey of 2,000 breastfeeding mothers found that 56% of them had to do it in unsuitable places at work. 18% of women had to use the staff room, 14% went to their cars, and 11% of mothers even expressed milk at their desks. So, what can you do to help a new mother who chooses to breastfeed in the workplace? Well, you need to begin before she even returns to work...

Prepare early, prepare well

To help ease her way back in, a woman with 26 weeks’ service can make a flexible working request. Make sure you consider her request carefully. If you don’t, you could face a claim of sex discrimination. And before she does finally return, you’d be wise to find out whether she expects to express milk at work—perhaps ask on one of her Keep in Touch (KIT) days. 70% of employers don’t think to ask the new mother about breastfeeding, so you’d wager that they don’t offer enough support for it. If you can be one of the 30%, we guarantee that your employee would be grateful.

The law on breastfeeding

Health & safety laws say you must give women who are breastfeeding a place to lie down and rest—no more, no less. So, you don’t have to give new mothers extra paid time to breastfeed—though you can if you want to. But it’s a good idea to do as much as you can to help make the new mother’s life easier. Here are some steps we recommend: - Organise somewhere for her to go: Provide a room with a lockable door where she can lie down or express milk in private. For hygienic reasons, it can’t be a toilet. - Offer a place to store breast milk: Somewhere clean, cool and secure. - Plan breaks throughout the workday: Give her time to breastfeed or express milk (if business demands mean you can still cope without her).

Educate your staff

As well as supporting the new mother, be mindful of how other staff behave towards her. Sadly, some might resent how the new mother needs time away from the day job to express milk. Make a policy stating how staff should treat new mothers at work, and be clear that you won’t tolerate any jokes or similarly negative behaviour.

Learn from EasyJet

In October 2016, EasyJet discriminated against two female employees who’d asked for shorter shifts so they could express milk. The tribunal found that EasyJet had not carried out a risk assessment, ignored advice from four different GPs, and failed to arrange occupational health assessments for both staff. EasyJet didn’t accommodate its breastfeeding employees and indirectly discriminated against the mothers because of their sex. Both new mothers were awarded compensation for injury to feelings (plus interest). Don’t let this be you. EasyJet won’t struggle to pay the bill for a tribunal award, but would you? Call for free advice today.

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